Showing posts with label Entertaining. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Entertaining. Show all posts

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Planning a Dinner Party and Serving Winter Squash

A lot of work goes into hosting a dinner party. No one likes wasted effort, so it behooves the cook in the house to find out what the guests like to eat and what foods to avoid. 

With pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, shellfish averse and gluten-free friends all potentially coming to the same meal, putting together a menu can be a bit of a puzzle. Besides staying clear of food allergies and aversions, as with any menu, the dishes need to have a flow and there needs to be pairings and contrasts. All soft food would be unpleasant. Serving only crispy food presents the same problem. But a mix of flavors and textures enlivens the palate as the conversation twists and turns through different conversational topics.
Warming up a meal with winter squash
Writing about food when rain is hitting the windows and the wind pushes through the trees makes me hungry for hot, savory and filling comfort food. A salad anytime would be nice but what drives away the chill is a good bowl of soup, a nice braise or roasted vegetables.

Not being a squash-person, the great abundance of winter squash in the farmers markets hasn't much mattered to me. When we host a dinner party, included in the invitation are two questions: "What do you love to eat?" and "What do you prefer not to eat?"
Which is a long way of getting around to winter squash.

At a recent dinner party, one of our guests indicated a love of squash so I was encouraged to experiment with a vegetable rarely visited in our kitchen. In today's farmers market there were beautiful looking displays of acorn and butternut squash.
Versatile squash
Squash can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted, stewed, pureed, braised and grilled. Because the seeds and pulp inside are not edible (although the seeds can be separated from the pulp, washed clean, tossed with olive oil and soy sauce and roasted for a snack), squash needs to be cut open. After that, the squash can be peeled or not, sliced, diced or left half or in quarters. 

Squash soup is certainly a good use of the vegetable, but I was more interested in retaining the texture of the flesh. Aiming for softness with a bit of char, I settled on a double method of cooking. Seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and pepper, the slices were first grilled and then finished in the oven to soften the flesh.

After cooking, the slices could be presented on a serving dish or, as I ultimately decided, peeled and large-diced, which made them an ideal side dish to accompany the rest of the meal, which consisted of brown sugar pork ribs, baked chicken breasts topped with parsley, roasted vegetable salad, Caesar salad, grilled romaine lettuce with Parmesan cheese shavings, Brazilian style grilled slices of picanha (beef top sirloin), roasted salmon with kimchi and brown sugar, chicken wing and leek tagine with preserved lemons.

For an easy-to-make side dish or tossed with pasta, roasted winter squash is a great way to go. In 30 minutes you can make pasta, the squash and a tossed salad for a healthy, delicious meal.

Grilled-Roasted Winter Squash

You can buy a large squash or, as I prefer, two smaller squash. They're easier to handle and are sometimes sweeter.

Serves 4

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds winter squash, washed and pat dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Using a sharp chefs knife on a wooden cutting board, cut off the ends of the squash and then cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp and seeds, washing the seeds and reserving them for a later use, if desired.
Preheat the grill and oven to 350 F. Slice the the squash into 1/2" thick, lengthwise slices. Pour the olive oil onto a medium sized baking tray and season with salt and pepper. Coat the squash slices with the seasoned olive oil.

To get char marks on the squash slices, place them on a hot grill for 30-40 seconds on each side. Use metal tongs to turn them and put them pack on the baking tray.

Put the squash into the oven 10 minutes on each side and bake until al dente. Don't make them too soft. Remove and, using a pairing knife, remove the peel.

Serve warm.

Variations

In addition to sea salt and black pepper, season the olive oil with finely chopped fresh garlic (2 cloves, peeled).

In addition to the other seasonings, add finely chopped fresh rosemary (1 tablespoon) to the squash slices.

For heat, add 1/8 teaspoon cayenne to the seasoned olive oil.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rise and Shine - Cooking as the Sun Comes Up

There are great pleasures in getting up early and cooking for friends coming for lunch or dinner.
In the summer, getting up as the sun is rising avoids the day's heat. In the winter, I love early morning cooking because the kitchen heats the house with fragrance as baked good come out of the oven and bacon sizzles in the sauté pan.

Before everyone else is awake, the house is quiet. A freshly brewed cup of coffee and NPR's Morning Edition gets me going as I organize my ingredients and pull out the few pots and pans I'll need to make a fun meal.

For a summer brunch, with the weather forecast saying temperatures will top 90 degrees, rising early means the chance to do some light cooking and then spend the rest of the day enjoying the cool of a shaded deck.

Easy-to-make dishes give a big return.
Grilled vegetables, eaten as an appetizer or turned into a simple salad, are light, refreshing and take only a few minutes to prepare.

Or the simplest meal starts with hardboiled eggs cooked in the morning and chilled, then served with remoulade or 1000 island dressing and good cold cuts and cheese.
An omelet takes minutes to make.  Prepared ahead, the fillings can be any combination of sautéed vegetables, meat, fish or poultry with whatever cheese you enjoy.
Gnocchi prepared in the morning, come together with farmers market fresh vegetables or thin slices of prosciutto, dusted with parsley.
A simple baked custard flavored with fresh or cooked fruit, topped with caramelized nuts, served with fresh fruit from the farmers market is the perfect dessert.
Biscuits for strawberry shortcake, baked as the sun is coming up, appear in the afternoon, cut in half and topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.
In fall and winter, bacon sautéed chicken with vegetables is perfect to drive away the cold or pork belly roasted with Vietnamese style vegetables and cooked overnight in a 225 F degree oven. The tender, ginger flavored meat adds spice to a simple tossed pasta.
Cooking early in the morning frees the rest of the day to relax, go for a walk and read the Sunday newspaper. Then when it's time to eat, the food is ready and you are a guest at your own table.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

For New Year's Eve: A Favorite Cocktail

The holidays are a great time to break the work routine, slow down the daily tempo, and hang out with friends and family.

Cold weather makes the outdoors less hospitable. A warm kitchen invites like no other room in the house.  Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, is a lot of work but also great fun. 

With New Year's Eve fast approaching, the search is on to plan a festive meal. What better way to begin the celebration than with a drink that evokes the sweetness of the tropics.

Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, include a spoon so the cocktail can be enjoyed as a drink and an appetizer all in one.

Tropical Rum Cocktail

Yield: 4

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup white rum
2 Fuyu persimmons, ripe, slightly soft, finely chopped
1 cup fresh orange juice, sweet
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 ice cubes

Method

Pour the white rum into a pitcher, add the powdered sugar, and stir well to dissolve. Add the finely chopped persimmons, orange and lime juice, and stir well to combine.

Put 4 ice cubes and a spoon into each glass, pour in the drink, making certain that the persimmon pieces are divided equally and serve.

Variations

Top with a fresh sprig of mint

Adjust the proportion of orange and lime juice, to taste

Substitute finely chopped mango, strawberries, kiwi, or fresh passion fruit for persimmons

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A New Year's Eve Cocktail and Appetizer All-in-One

I enjoy spending hours cooking in the kitchen. Doing the prep work soothes my frazzled nerves. Watching a dish slowly come together as the various ingredients combine their flavors calms me down.

Being in the kitchen is a great escape from a contentious world. Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, gives me a lot of pleasure. Good food promotes good conversation and well-prepared dishes tell our friends that we care about them.

I like to have the meal completed before everyone arrives, but sometimes, like this New Year's Eve, I know I'll still be cooking. The best solution is a colorful cocktail that refreshes and entertains while I'm finishing dinner.

Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, including a spoon means the cocktail is a drink and an appetizer all in one.

Tropical Rum Cocktail

Cocktails, like pets, need to be named. I'd appreciate any and all suggestions.

Yield: 4

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup white rum
2 Fuyu persimmons, ripe, slightly soft, finely chopped
1 cup fresh orange juice, sweet
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 ice cubes

Method

Pour the white rum into a pitcher, add the powdered sugar, and stir well to dissolve. Add the finely chopped persimmons, orange and lime juice, and stir well to combine.

Put 4 ice cubes and a spoon into each glass, pour in the drink, making certain that the persimmon pieces are divided equally and serve.

Variations

Top with a fresh sprig of mint

Adjust the proportion of orange and lime juice, to taste

Substitute finely chopped mango, strawberries, kiwi, or fresh passion fruit for persimmons

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